Monday 16 September 2019

The world burns while the courts obsess on Trump tweets

In the line of fire: Trump is no longer at liberty to block social media irritants on Twitter
In the line of fire: Trump is no longer at liberty to block social media irritants on Twitter
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There are times when it's hard to escape the impression that the universe is deliberately screwing with us.

Sure, there have always been odd stories and breaking scandals but the last few years seems to have seen the culture take a running jump into full-scale, hellish weirdness. A lot of people like to blame the likes of Trump and Brexit for the new febrile atmosphere we live in, but in truth they were the product, not the cause, of this new craziness.

Politics tends to be an expression of the culture that produces it, and the culture is currently falling apart, through a mixture of official authoritarianism and the inexorable rise of identity politics and the grievance industry.

It's a scenario that seems to have made a victim out of everyone - from men who want to be treated as women and can't understand why people don't go along with the delusion, to the tedious bleatings of the alt-right and its constant claims that white males are unfairly victimised to the usual feminist suspects who see the world in Manichean terms, it's now cool to be a victim.

In these arenas, there is no room for nuance or compromise, no proportionality, no common sense.

We have somehow allowed the idiots and the cranks and the emotionally unstable have free rein to make ever more irrational and unreasonable demands.

Yes, the children have taken over and those parts of the world that aren't burning are busy tearing themselves asunder in a series of increasingly pointless and dumb battles that gratify the participants while driving the rest of us to despair.

Social media plays a large part but even the madder citizens of cyberspace are merely a product of their environment so there is something hideously apt about Trump's latest brush with controversy.

It's easy to forget now, but in those long forgotten days of, oh, about 2016, when we were all a bit more innocent and less bruised by the madness than we are now, the idea of a president using Twitter as his primary means of communication would have been seen as the prediction of a mad man.

Now, of course, we have seen the more traditional, presidential fireside chats replaced by semi-literate outbursts which would have been amusing coming from the guy who hosts The Apprentice, but seem thoroughly bizarre coming from the 45th President of the United States of America.

His supporters undoubtedly have a point when they say that he is simply bypassing the hated mainstream media and using his own forum to get his message across, although it remains a mystery why his aides haven't at least introduced a system where someone, anyone, gets to vet what he writes.

It's become a modern axiom that anyone who uses social media in general and Twitter in particular will, sooner or later, run aground.

Not for the first time, however, Trump finds himself embroiled in a ludicrous situation involving his tweets.

A remarkably petty man who likes to rub his opponents' noses in the dirt, he was happy to block the likes of Rosie O'Donnell from his account.

The blocking facility is probably the most widely used resource on Twitter and it works quite simply - you get a load of abuse, or some stranger deliberately clogs up your timeline with hundreds of tweets and you simply press 'block' - it cuts them off from getting into your space. It's the best way to deal with social media irritants and saves the recipient from having to shovel through endless posts of nonsense.

But, according to a federal court in New York, Trump is actually in breach of the constitution for blocking people like O'Donnell.

US district court judge Naomi Reice Buchwald decreed that Trump's enthusiastic use of the blocking feature apparently violates the right to free speech of his critics and she says that "blocking people as a result of their political views is a breach of the First Amendment". Now, I'm no historical scholar, but I sincerely doubt that when the First Amendment was adopted in 1791, the politicians had Twitter-blocking in mind.

Of course, his critics were only delighted with the news, and now feel that Trump is constitutionally obliged to read every tweet calling him a tiny-handed, ginger tosser.

Reminding us that irony truly is dead to some people, the usual anti-Trump publications such as The Guardian welcomed the decision, while conveniently neglecting to mention that it has introduced strict rules of what comments are acceptable in its comments section.

As one of their writers who had been banned by Trump so grandiosely put it: "I often took it upon myself to let him know what I think of him."

And she was surprised when she was blocked?

This has nothing to do with whether you like Trump or not. It is, however, rather instructive about where we are at in our trivial, trite and shallow era.

If Trump had started getting people banned from the site, his critics would have had a point. But he wasn't trying to ban anyone - he just chose to avail of the same facility open to everyone who has Twitter.

Freedom of speech is crucial - but so is the freedom to ignore and the latest move is not just spiteful, it's childish beyond belief.

Yes, welcome to 2018, when the children and cranks think they run the joint...

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